You may not think of wilderness hikes when you think of DC, but there are 35 National Parks in the capitol region and a number of state and local parks to enjoy.
Potomac Heritage Trail Hikes
The Potomac Heritage Trail is actually a network of trails that run along the Potomac River on the Virginia side. Access to the Virginia side of the river is less well marked, but that also means that there are fewer people (and more opportunities to meet nature) than the District side.
Great Falls National Park
- Directions: Great Falls National Park
By far the grandest National Park in the area is Great Falls. The easiest way to do Great Falls is to drive to the Visitor Center, which is just a short walk from the Falls overlook. But the line to get in and park can be up to 45 minutes long on a beautiful day, according to the Park Service. And you have to pay to get in. A free alternative entrance is by the free parking lot across the street from the Anglers’ Inn. It’s about 2 miles from the Visitors’ Center, so you may want to bring a bike if you’re in a hurry.
Near the top of any boater’s list is Burke Lake, a 218 acre lake surrounded by wilderness.
Dyke Marsh Preserve
While the crowds flock to Teddy Roosevelt Island, you can find some serious alone time at the Dyke Marsh Preserve, just 15 minutes to the south. The 0.75 mile trail out to the water is among the easiest hikes for little kids and provides many naturalist encounters along the way, from marsh flowers to open views of the tidal plain beyond Washington. Placards along the way tell the story of this threatened wetland habitat.
Spooky Woods: Prince William Forest
In the Second World War, Prince William Forest was a training facility for American Spies enrolled in the OSS (predecessor of the CIA) . It’s easy to see why: these dark woods comprise the largest uninterrupted wilderness in the DMV.
- Directions: Meadowood Recreation Area
Half an hour’s drive south of DC in Mason Neck is the Meadowood Recreation Area. Although it is best known as a mountain bike trail that features a fast obstacle course known simply as The Boss, many of the trails are restricted to hikers.
Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park cuts through the heart of DC and provides miles of paved running and biking trails along a tributary of the Potomac. The park also serves as a portal to imagine what DC was like before it became one of the world’s great cities.
- Sugarman, Joe, 12 Great Hikes Near DC, Washingtonian Magazine, 2016.